Sometime in 1980-81, I was sent to Kuwait on a puzzling assignment - to determine the suitability of the desert Kingdom - for the establishment of a Bhutanese Consulate office. Puzzling because I was not from the Diplomatic Corps - but from trade and commerce. I spent about three weeks in that dust bowl - at the end of which I returned home with nothing but a lifelong abhorrence for that breed of humanoid who don the Dishdasha and the flapping Keffiyeh.
Few years later, on 23rd of May, 1983, Bhutan's Consulate was established in Kuwait - with retired army Maj. Pem Tshering as the first Consul General.
However, this is not a narrative about my first and last trip to Kuwait - but about a strange human thought process to which I had the rare opportunity to bear witness to.
I was asked to accompany a friend to witness the proceedings of a court case in the city of Kuwait - his friend’s case was coming up for hearing on that day. In lethargic Kuwaiti style the cases began to be heard, one after another. Finally, it was the turn of my friend’s friend’s case to be heard.
Judge: “OK - next case”.
The Plaintiff: “Your honor, I am a driver and owner of a taxi. I would like to seek your permission to make my submission, if I may”.
Judge: “Yes, yes, go ahead - present your case’.
The Plaintiff: “Thank You Your Honor - May Allah Be Praised.
The Defendant had hired my taxi a few weeks back, to go to a location where unfortunately I ended up in an accident. The accident is costing me a few thousand Dinars - to fix the car and to pay compensation to others - for damages and injuries caused as a consequence.
It is my submission that the defendant should bear the costs resulting from the accident - for the simple reason that if he had not hired me, I would not have been in that location and if I was not in that location, I would not have ended up in the accident. Thus, my plea is that the accident was caused because I was required to be at a place and during a time when the accident was destined, by the will of Allah, to occur.
Therefore, it is my submission that the court kindly pronounce the Defendant guilty for the accident and require him to pay me restitution of the sum equal to the cost I am now burdened with.
Judge: “Security - remove this idiot from my courtroom!!!”
Four decades and three years later, I get this sense that the same scene is now being orchestrated in the land of GNH - in the case involving the Royal Government of Bhutan (RGoB), the Association of Bhutanese Tour Operators (ABTO), Amen Bhutan Tours & Treks (Amen) and the Tourism Council of Bhutan (TCB).
The RGoB exhibits the tendencies of a kid: blowing hot and blowing cold, alternately. Sometimes it says APPROVED - then in the next breath it says REVOKED - with scant regard for the consequences of its irresponsible actions. It behaves as if it can do whatever it pleases, without owing any responsibility to the citizens - as if they believe that they are beyond reproach and accountability.
ABTO: Crying foul that Amen had stolen some of their members’ clients - as if those members had a monopoly over the clients. If that were not enough - they accuse Amen of unfair advantage - when they damn well know that that advantage was legitimately AUTHORIZED by the RGoB. ABTO fails to point out the obvious and behaves like a limpid reptile consigned to a hot bed of sand. It fails to provide leadership during these times of crisis. It chooses, instead, to single out an industry player for victimization, borne out of their own ignorance and poor grasp of the issues involved.
Amen: A legal entity holding a valid license, issued by the RGoB, to do tourism business and make profit in the process - in the best and most lucrative way they can. If they have been ingenious and creative in their ability to hoodwink the government, that is a measure of their competence - they are not the custodian of the RGoB’s morality - or responsible for the RGoB's failure to do their due diligence. In the meantime Amen is smiling all the way to the bank - while the hecklers are busy barking up the wrong tree.
This is a case of missing the forest for the tree. Nothing new here - it is in the genes of the Bhutanese - to catch the bull by the tail, always!
Tourism Council of Bhutan (TCB): The original traitors to the industry. They are the sole reason for the failure of the industry and its present state of affairs - they allowed clueless, rank outsiders to trample them under their stampeding feet. A regulatory authority with forty eight (48) years of experience and wisdom - had nothing to offer by way of resistance when their world was being turned upside down. They failed to foresee the present crisis - even worst - they failed to accept the onus of their failure, and do the honorable.
For the history books - posterity will be reminded that the above lot of concerned citizens tried to do the right thing.
On 23rd of June, 2022, as a Member of the Bhutan Sustainable Tourism Society (BSTS) participating in a meeting with the Hon’ble Members of the National Assembly’s Economic & Finance Committee, I had declared that I was willing to give in writing that the Government, the Tourism Council of Bhutan and the Department of Immigration were, not one of them, ready to implement the Tourism Levy Bill of Bhutan 2022. We pleaded for the deferment of the implementation of the Bill - by at least a year, in order that old cases could be sorted out first. Regardless, the government bulldozed the Bill through the NA in record three days - totally disregarding the recommendations of the NA’s Finance & Economic Affairs Committee - a group formed with the express purpose to study and make meaningful recommendations. The Committee did a sterling job - but that was not enough - proving the fact that their appointment was merely a sham.
Today many months latter the result is that the tourism industry has been brought to a grinding halt - in the process, impacting livelihood of almost every Bhutanese across the entire spectrum of the Bhutanese society.
Strangely the government went on to implement even that which was not authorized by the Bill - the matter relating to the SDF.
The Parliament endorsed the SDF for tourists only - NOT for the non-tourists. But currently the government is adamant that the SDF is applicable to government guests, as well as to members of the donor agencies and others.
What exactly does "Revoked" entail, in the context of the present controversy surrounding RGoB/ABTO/Amen/TCB? If it does mean what I understood it to mean, the order would translate into foregoing the above economic contribution to Bhutan and the Bhutanese people.
The numbers are computed at 1,600 tourists of Amen - imagine the numbers involved if we where to calculate based on the tens of thousands of tourists who have been deterred from visiting Bhutan as a consequence of the Tourism Levy Bill of Bhutan 2022.
And no one is being held accountable - every one is getting away scot free - on the excuse that they do what they do - for the long-term benefit of the country - even while dead bodies are piling up by the wayside. Now even a commercial entity like the DHI tells us that they have done what they have done - in the long-term interest of the country and the people of Bhutan. And, that, in their unmatched wisdom, is forgivable and perfectly all right.
Well & Truly AMEN!